As the election campaigns are on full swing in Kerala, political fronts and their candidates are busy ensuring maximum votes. While the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) are yet to announce their complete list of candidates, The Left Democratic Front (LDF) is moving ahead with a vigorous campaign.
The LDF, this time, has tried to ensure representation from all sections of the society. The LDF panel consists of representatives from all sectors including farmers’ leaders and trade unionists such as KN Balagopal, PP Chitharanjan, P Nandhakumar, J Mercykutty Amma, etc.
KN Balagopal from Kottarakkara
KN Balagopal, state secretary of Kerala Karshaka Sangham, the Kerala chapter of All India Kisan Sabha, is contesting as the LDF candidate from Kottarakkara in Kollam district.
Kerala farmers, under the banner of Samyuktha Karshaka Samithi -- headed by Balagopal along with Sathyan Mokeri -- had launched a relay dharna at Thiruvananthapuram from December 12, 2020, in solidarity with the fighting farmers across the country and against the farm laws. Later, the dharna had been launched at all district centres across the state. After that, the Karshaka Sangham had initiated campaigns urging the centre to withdraw the ASEAN agreement for affecting the prices of cash crops in the state. Farmers from the state, especially those growing rubber, coffee and tea, have been the worst-affected due to the ASEAN-India Free Trade Agreement, which was signed in August 2009 and came into effect from January 1, 2010.
Balagopal, the former Rajya Sabha member, has been leading all these protests for the rights of farmers. “Now, when a BJP government is in power, they are trying to implement laws affecting the lives of farmers who cultivate wheat, rice and other crops. Protests by farmers have been ongoing for the past three months,” said Balagopal adding that, “The plantation sector in Kerala had collapsed because of the ASEAN agreement signed by the then Congress government. This ASEAN agreement signed by the Congress government is the base of all anti-farmer laws introduced by the current BJP government.”
When the Centre failed to meet the demands of the farmers across the country, the LDF government had ensured Minimum Support Price for 16 produces including vegetables, fruits and tubers, to protect farmers from price fluctuations in the market. At present, the Centre fixes a Minimum Support Price for 22 products, primarily grains, pulses and oilseeds, paddy and copra, ahead of the season. But, in the case of Kerala, according to the Agriculture Department, the MSP for paddy and copra are mainly relevant.
The MSP for paddy announced by the Centre is Rs 1,868 per quintal for the 2020-21 crop year. While in Kerala, the MSP for paddy is Rs 2,630 per quintal.
PP Chitharanjan from Alappuzha
The fish workers across the country have been facing tough times with the policies of the Centre along with the impact of climate change. The story of fish workers in Kerala is not much different and it is important that the voice of the fisher folk community should be heard. Thus, the LDF has fielded the state general secretary of Kerala Fish Workers Federation, PP Chitharanjan, as a candidate in Alappuzha.
The Centre has been gearing up for the privatisation of fishing harbours across the country. Along with this, the draft Fisheries Policy 2021, has also put the livelihood of fisher folk community at risk. Through the National Fisheries Policy, the fisherfolks fear that all resources of inland fisheries, like rivers, canals, or ponds, would eventually be leased out to private parties, hitting the livelihoods of lakhs of people dependent on the marine sector.
PP Chitharanjan meeting his voters in Alappuzha constituency
The Fish Workers Federation noted that the state government has been with the community lending them a helping hand during difficult times. Recently, the Fish Workers Federation in a statement said, “The efforts taken by the current government (state government) to protect livelihood and increase the income of the fishermen have brought great relief to the community. These measures helped the workers during the Ockhi cyclone and even protected them from the threat posed by COVID-19. The government acted as a helping hand to the fishing families and was able to ensure peace and security of life throughout the coastal areas of the state.”
Mercykutty Amma from Kundara
While, J Mercykutty Amma, who has been vocal about the issues of workers, especially the cashew factory workers, fisherfolks, coir workers and Khadi workers, is contesting from Kundara in Kollam district. Mercykutty Amma had headed the ministry of fisheries, cashew industry and harbour engineering from 2016-2021 and she is also the state vice president of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).
As a minister, Mercykutty Amma’s efforts to uplift the living standard of the fisherfolk community and workers across the state have been notable. The LDF government initiated a special housing project for the fisherfolk community incorporated within the Life Mission -- the ambitious housing project to ensure safe and secure housing for all.
In October 2018, the LDF government had kept the promises made to the fisherfolks in Valiyathura, Cheriyathura, Valiyathope and Kochuthope by handing over a newly constructed apartment complex named Pratheeksha (Hope) in Muttathara to 192 fishing families of these areas. The families whose houses had been destroyed by the Ockhi in December 2017 were the beneficiaries. As many as 4,389 houses have been built under the fisheries department as of January 18, 2021.
The contribution of fishermen in the rescue operations during the flood of 2018 was commendable and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan termed the community as the ‘Soldiers of Kerala’. Selected members from these community later had been given the charge as Coastal Wardens in the Coastal Police of Kerala.
Mercykutty Amma with cashew factory workers during the election campaign
TP Ramakrishnan from Perambra
Another minister, TP Ramakrishnan, who had been heading ministry of Labour and Excise, is in the election fray. Ramakrishnan, who is also serving as the state vice president of CITU and has been working among the plantation workers, is contesting from the Perambra Assembly constituency in Kozhikode district.
During his tenure as a minister, Ramakrishnan focused on uplifting the working conditions across all sections. One among the most significant changes that had been made under his leadership is the Right to Sit Act. Tens of thousands of women workers in shops and commercial establishments in the State had been demanding a decent working environment. They had no right to sit during their work. As the LDF government passed the act in 2018, it is now mandatory for all shops and establishments in the state to provide seating arrangements at work places for women workers, especially saleswomen. The provision was made through amendments to Kerala Shops and Establishments, 1960, and it also included other women-friendly initiatives like arrangements to ensure women’s safety during night shifts.
Ramakrishnan was instrumental in bettering the conditions of plantation workers as well. In December 2109, the daily wages of tea workers were increased to Rs 380.38 from Rs 328.38. This increase in the basic salary, coupled with other statutory benefits, resulted in a total daily wage of Rs 600.
In the rubber sector, the wages were increased to Rs 460.40 from Rs 408.40. The total emolument, with other statutory benefits, is Rs 723 per day. The wages of cardamom workers had also been increased to Rs 409.38 from Rs 357.38 per day, resulting in a total of Rs 642.73 per day. In the coffee sector, the increase was from Rs 333.38 to Rs 385.38, which resulted a total of Rs 602 per day.
TP Ramakrishnan during election campaign
Many of the LDF candidates have a glorious past of fighting for the rights of farmers and workers. Of these, CITU state treasurer P Nandakumar is in the election battle representing LDF from Ponnani Assembly constituency in Malappuram. This trade unionist with about 50 years of experience is an asset to the entire panel of the LDF.
CITU state secretary V Sivankutty from Nemom, CITU state committee members KK Ramachandran from Puthukkad, VN Vasavan from Ettumanoor, A Prabhakaran from Malampuzha and H Salam from Ambalappuzha are also in the candidate list of LDF.